‘Annie,’ ‘Top Five’ Arrive on Home Video

Forrest Hartman


This week’s major home video releases include a Biblical epic from director Ridley Scott, a comedy from Chris Rock and a remake of a beloved family friendly musical.




3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG for some mild language and rude humor
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand


There was no great outcry for another film adaptation of the Broadway musical “Annie,” but writer-director Will Gluck’s take on the material is as good as one could hope for. Gluck’s new “Annie” is hipper and more urban than the like-titled 1982 movie but the essence of the story is the same.


Ten-year-old Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives in a foster home with several other orphan girls, but she is convinced that her parents will eventually show up to reclaim her. In fact, she makes weekly visits to the restaurant where her biological parents originally abandoned her, convinced that they will show up and take her home.


Annie’s life is hard because her foster mother, Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), is a hard-living taskmaster haunted by the fact that her singing career went bad. But things change for the girl when she meets a business mogul named Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx).


Will is running for mayor of New York, but he’s down in the polls. Then, he prevents Annie from getting hit by a car, and a video of the incident goes viral. Will’s campaign manager (Bobby Cannavale) senses opportunity and arranges for Annie to stay in Will’s palatial apartment. The idea is for Will to soften his image, but it doesn’t take long for him and Annie to form a real bond.


Gluck presents the action at a reasonable pace, and the cast is solid and likable. Wallis, in particular, is a standout, presenting Annie as a spirited girl who maintains an endearing sense of optimism no matter what life throws her way.


Foxx, Cannavale and Diaz are terrific actors, and they turn in good performances in low-demand roles, as does Rose Byrne who plays Will’s assistant. The film’s musical numbers are understated but lively, and Gluck does a nice job with the dramatic arc. The biggest problem with “Annie” is that the story has already made its way through theaters and there’s nothing new here.  


Gluck and his cast have modernized the music and the setting, but everything feels familiar … because it is.


Blu-ray and DVD extras include bloopers, sing-alongs, making-of featurettes and a photo gallery.



Exodus: Gods & Kings

2 stars
Rated PG-13 for violence including battle sequences and intense images
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD and digital download


Director Ridley Scott has carved out a remarkable place in film history, creating an impressive filmography that includes “Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Thelma & Louise” and “American Gangster.” Unfortunately, he is also prone to ambitious failures including “Kingdom of Heaven” and “The Counselor.” “Exodus: Gods & Kings,” which relates the Biblical story of Moses, falls into the latter camp.


Scott gets the scope of the story right, creating a sprawling 150-minute movie that, appropriately, looks and feels like an epic. Unfortunately, Scott fails with the pacing, giving viewers a picture that looks grand but plays as bloated and tedious.


The movie begins in 1300 BCE with Moses having grown to manhood as an adopted member of the Egyptian royal family. Despite rising to great power as an Egyptian general, Moses (Christian Bale) is banished when the pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton) learns that he was likely born a Hebrew. Moses then takes a journey that convinces him to lead his enslaved Hebrew brethren in a rebellion against Ramses.


During the movie’s theatrical run, Bale stirred controversy by calling Moses “barbaric,” but the film’s problems don’t stem from his off-screen comments or his onscreen portrayal. Moses isn’t Bale’s best role, but he does a credible job. Meanwhile, Edgerton is quite good as Ramses, and the supporting cast – including Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, and John Turturro – are solid.


The biggest problem with “Exodus” is Scott’s pacing and his failure to invest viewers in the lives of the characters. To be sure, there is a lot to cover in a story like this, but the material isn’t as compelling as it should be. What viewers get is a plodding narrative that checks off appropriate story points yet never really excites. The storytelling also feels cold and distant, meaning viewers watch life-changing events unfold, but they don’t prompt an emotional connection.  


The strength of “Exodus” is its powerful visuals. The cinematography is appropriately sweeping and the special effects are good. In short, the movie looks like the stereotypical Biblical epic. Had it moved more quickly and done a better job connecting to viewers, Scott might have had another winner. Instead, it’s a reminder that even good filmmakers fail. 


Blu-ray and DVD extras include a collection of deleted and extended scenes and an audio commentary by Scott and one of the film’s screenwriters, Jeffrey Caine.



Top Five

2 stars
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand


Chris Rock is one of the funniest and most talented comedians in Hollywood, a fact often reinforced by the material in his latest feature, “Top Five.” Unfortunately, the off-kilter romantic comedy is a tale of inconsistencies, a work where great jokes and genuine acting are undermined by a dogged determination to take things too far. 


Plainly speaking, “Top Five” is a filthy picture, an analysis that rings true even using increasingly loose Hollywood standards. In itself, that is no condemnation, as there’s nothing wrong with making a movie for adults. Judging by the theatrical success of “50 Shades of Grey,” there’s a large audience for such material. The problem with “Top Five” is that much of the racy content, which ranges from explicit language to nudity, actually weakens an otherwise fascinating project. 


The movie is designed as a showcase for Rock, who wrote the screenplay and served as his own director. Cut through the blur of profanity and one finds an intriguing character drama about a famous comedian named Andre Allen (Rock). Viewers learn that Allen struck gold playing a gun-toting bear in a series of blockbuster comedies, that he is a recovering drug addict and that he’s hoping to reinvent himself with a dramatic film about the Haitian Revolution. Although this movie is about to hit theaters, the public is more interested in the fact that he is also marrying a reality star named Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) on national TV.


In the midst of this turmoil, Andre’s agent (Kevin Hart) insists that he allow a New York Times reporter to shadow him for a day. Andre wants nothing to do with this because the Times’ film critic has been merciless in reviews of his movies. Nevertheless, Andre is soon talking to Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), a straight-talking reporter who thinks nothing of asking him why he’s not funny anymore. The at-first-contentious relationship softens as the two get to know each other, and this part of the film is quite lovely.


Because much of the movie is about two people getting to know each other, it features conversations about everything from politics to addiction. At times, the discussions are witty and comical, and they remind us what an insightful person Rock is. Unfortunately, the great moments are regularly punctuated by graphic sex talk and raunchy gags that lack nuance and frequently seem out of place. It’s as though Rock expects viewers to laugh just because his characters are uttering profanities. He’s too good to fall back on that sort of writing, and viewers’ time is too precious to waste on a movie that doesn’t live up to its potential.


The DVD release has no special features, but the Blu-ray includes deleted scenes, outtakes, a couple behind-the-scenes featurettes and a filmmakers’ audio commentary.





“Penguins of Madagascar”: The fourth entry in the animated Madagascar franchise focuses on the penguins Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private. In the movie, they team up with a top-secret organization to prevent an evil octopus from ruining the lives of penguins everywhere.   


“Song of the Sea”: Irish animated film centered on a girl with the power to transform herself into a seal. The movie, directed by Tomm Moore, was nominated for best animated feature at the most-recent Oscars.


“Ride the Pink Horse”: Criterion Collection restoration of actor-director Robert Montgomery’s 1947 crime drama about a former soldier who blackmails the gangster who killed his friend. Montgomery stars alongside Fred Clark and Art Smith. 


“Halo – Nightfall”: Five episodes of Microsoft’s videogame-inspired Xbox series are merged into a single, feature-length film. The story centers on the exploits of intelligence agent Jameson Locke (Mike Colter).


“Star Trek – The Original Series – Captain Kirk’s Boldest Missions”: Paramount compiles eight episodes from the original “Star Trek” into a best-of-Kirk set.


Author Bio:

Forrest Hartman, a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine, is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation's largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com

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